Last night abroad

I leave Botswana tomorrow, and even though the date of July 18th has been in my head all year, it still doesn’t quite feel here.

Some people in the departments of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Botswana were interested in what I’d seen this year, so I gave them an informal presentation. Here I am with some of the attendees.

My trip home will take 28 hours, including a couple hours in Doha (hello again!) on the way to NYC. Thanks to the new electronics restriction on flights coming into the US from the Middle East, I was going to have to pack my laptop away in my checked bag for the whole trip (and worry about it not breaking – a nice welcome home from the new president). But just now as I went to check in with Qatar Airways, I saw that the ban was lifted, so that’s good news! Now I’ll be able to take my Kindle on the plane with me and finally finish the book I started ages ago (The Goldfinch).

Wire animals at Princess Marina Hospital, the main public hospital in Gaborone.

I’ve been packing for the last time today, and I’m definitely ready to stop living out of my suitcase. I’ve somehow accumulated a extra bag’s worth of stuff over the year – I packed so tightly when I left that I didn’t leave room for the few clothes, small trinkets, and many papers that I would acquire throughout the year. My packing right now is a bit sloppier than most of the times I’ve packed this year, but this time I just have to get my stuff home instead of setting up someplace new.

Most of what I brought with me is coming back, except for pants I managed to rip yesterday (oops) and the travel quick-dry granny panties I unceremoniously tossed a few days ago. A few other things got tossed and replaced throughout the year, but for the most part I’m very happy with what I packed.

I went to a cafe in Gaborone that had this framed Swedish bill (it’s 100 Swedish kronor, about $12). It completely took me by surprise, and all of a sudden I was thrown into a bunch of memories from last fall. I feel like this will be how I know that the Watson has been real, that I’ve really been to these places and left little bits of myself in them – when these random reminders appear out of nowhere and pull at my emotions and my memories.

Today is President’s Day in Botswana, and as presidents are apparently very revered here, everything is closed. Botswana will stay quiet until Wednesday (after I’m gone), and the one meeting I had scheduled for late last week was canceled because the doctor started his holiday a bit early. It’s been nice to slowly wrap things up and not worry about any more meetings, but now I’m getting antsy to go home (I wish, at least, my Zumba class were open today, or the cafe where I have a free coffee that I’ll never redeem). The journey home will be long enough that I want to get it started!

I’m very excited to finally come home and return to NYC after the longest continuous time I’ve spent away from the city. I’m sure the end-of-Watson feelings will kick in a bit later, maybe on the plane – I’ve said a lot of goodbyes these past few days without actually feeling them. (I think that after a certain number of goodbyes, you just go through the motions because it would be too emotionally exhausting to really feel them all. That will all sink in eventually, too). For now, I’m excited to have one last crazy long journey and go home to my friends, family, and of course, the dog.

Of course, this isn’t my dog – this is Butters, one of the dogs at the Airbnb where I’ve been staying in Gaborone. He’s a goofy troublemaker.

P.S. This is my last post written from abroad on the Watson, but not my last post on this blog – I’ll keep writing for a little while longer to cover coming home, the Watson conference, and the final Watson report.


Sideways to Vasa

I couldn’t leave Stockholm without posting about Vasa. Vasa is an old Swedish warship and the star of the Vasa Museet here in Stockholm. A friend of mine in Malmö told me again and again that I had to go to Vasa, so I promised I would. His other main piece of life advice was to watch Sideways, the film with Paul Giamatti, so I watched it the same day. I’m glad I did both!

This is what you see when you walk into the museum. The ship has been shielded from the “worldly elements.”
This is a 1:10 full-color scale model of what the ship looked like when it was built, with the original in the background.
The Vasa ship was commissioned during the Thirty Years’ War, illustrated by this map.

Vasa was built in 1628, and Vasa sank in 1628. Sadly at the time, but happily for the museum, Vasa set sail in 1628 for a mere 20 minutes before promptly sinking just off the harbor (in view of all the townspeople that had waved goodbye to the ship). Sitting in the water for 333 years before it was lifted in 1961, Vasa was nearly perfectly preserved. Though the colors had worn off, the wood was still strong and the ship had never seen the horrors of war.

In the one room with natural light in the museum, you can see a small model of Vasa just before it sinks. The ship was too top-heavy and narrow, and a gust of wind easily blew it over. You can see it tilting dangerously here.
Here you can see why Vasa was ill-designed. The bottom should have been wider with more ballast. Also, the two gun decks on top (rather than just one) made for a center of gravity that was too high and thus too ‘tippable.’
The “back stern castle” of Vasa was decorated with richly colored statues, all designed to showcase the power of the king.

A beautiful and cannon-filled ship, Vasa was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of Sweden’s enemies. It is covered with religious and political imagery, including Roman Emperors to suggest that the Swedish king was somehow related. The king at the time, Gustavus Adolphus, commissioned Vasa and was partially responsible for its demise, as he insisted on adding a second gun deck (with very heavy cannons!) late in the ship’s construction.

While museum-goers can no longer walk inside the original ship, there are museum workers that work inside, below, and around the ship to maintain it.
This is part of the back stern castle on the top floor of the museum. The ship is huge, requiring a four-floor museum just to see all levels of it!
I really liked this little model display of “tacking,” a technique of turning into the wind – something that might have kept Vasa going for a bit longer than 20 minutes, though not much longer.

As I said in a recent post, I think that museums that have one main focus (something more specific than a region or a time period) are the best, and Vasa Museet is no exception. It was great to hear all the little details about the ship – how it was built, who worked on it, the errors leading to its instability, the crew that sailed with it that day, the dramatic inquest afterwards, and more. I feel like I retained much more from that museum than I did from the Medieval Museum, for example, or the currency museum. Those topics are just too big and broad to delve into over the course of an afternoon.

I think my favorite part of the museum was this “design-your-own-ship” game, in which you could adjust the ballast and width and so on to build a ship sturdier than Vasa. I managed 100% stability, but “lost my job” with the king because I brought the speed down to 20%!

Another cool part of the museum was the complete replica of the upper gun deck. Even though people can’t go into the real deal anymore, it was great to see the deck as it used to be and walk by some cannons.

Life in Vasa (at least, what it would have looked like).
Apparently people played backgammon on ships in the 17th century!
Lastly, there was an exhibit about the 15 people whose remains were found with the ship. Using new facial reconstruction technology, the museum was able to display what they looked like.
Leaving Vasa Museet, which is specially built to house Vasa and protect it from the world outside.

I’m glad I saw the Vasa Museet and the movie Sideways – I do recommend both. There’s still so much more for me to write about Sweden. There are more museums, many more cinnamon buns, more trips to IKEA (via the very-Swedish free IKEA bus), and, of course, more project meetings (including a conference!). But these memories, notes, photos, and recordings will have to wait, as I think about packing and online check-in and various other flight preparations.

Tomorrow will be a full day of travel, and I won’t arrive in Doha until early Friday morning. So, wish me luck! And a big thanks to Sweden for being the nicest, most welcoming first Watson country I could ever imagine. I already know I have to come back.


The first flight

My first flight for the Watson (of six, minimum) was also probably the only nonstop flight I’ll take all year – and that was just the beginning of a full day of travel.

The night before I left, with all my stuff packed up, I stayed home with my parents and watched two travel-themed movies: Michael Moore’s Where Should We Invade Next? and Lost in Translation. The former wasn’t what I expected based on the name. It’s a bittersweet look at the flaws of the U.S. and what we could learn from other countries around the world (especially a few Scandinavian countries) in terms of how to live life more beautifully and how humans can be kinder to each other. The latter I had seen a few years ago but wanted to re-watch because, as you can imagine, it feels more pertinent now that I know I’m finally making my way to Japan.

The next day, I said goodbye to my parents, and to my dog…

With all my gear (I’m wearing the Osprey detachable backpack too, and it’s pretty thin):

me with stuff

I finally landed in the Stockholm-Arlanda airport, and then I took a bus to the Stockholm Centralstation. I barely saw Stockholm, but what I did see looked beautiful. From the Centralstation, I took a 4-hour train to Gothenburg through the countryside. It’s called the Blå Tåget, or “Blue Train.” It’s a very pretty, old-fashioned train that made me feel like I had been transported to a 19th century novel. It was in that moment – sitting on an old train all by myself in the middle of Sweden – when it clicked that I was doing the Watson. I feel like I’ll have moments like that again and again throughout the year as I adjust to this new type of travel.

After another Centralstation and a tram to a somewhat suburban neighborhood of Gothenburg, I am finally at the apartment that I will call home for the next 12 days. Tomorrow I’ll explore the neighborhood and hopefully find a supermarket! (Baby steps).

The casualties of a small suitcase

Nope, I definitely could not get everything in that suitcase. The main casualties were a sweater, 5 shirts, a dress, a tote bag, and 3 pairs of pants. Last week, someone told me to pack half as much as I thought I needed and to take twice as much money. Well, I can’t do anything about the money situation, but hopefully I’ll be happy to have lighter luggage!


Packing for a year

In roughly 26 hours, I’ll be leaving NYC for my flight to Stockholm. Recently, packing has been the main adventure as I struggle to figure out everything I will need and want over the course of the year (and, of course, how to fit it). I always think that the best way to do it is to pick a suitcase that is the maximum size of what you want to carry, or ideally  less than maximum, and then stuff it to the brim! Although this ratio of stuff to bring and suitcase size isn’t looking too good yet:


I wanted to do an extended post about packing and what I’m bringing because these posts have been a valuable source of advice for me. I have to give a big thanks to Nell Bang-Jensen of, who did a Watson 2011-2012 and wrote incredibly helpful posts for future Watson Fellows. I ended up getting the same suitcase as her (the Osprey Meridian, which was actually recommended by many different people I spoke with) and followed her shoe advice closely in order to get one nice shoe, one super comfy walking shoe, and one every day shoe (walking sandals). Feel free to check out the links in my “Bags” and “Shoes” sections below.  Also, Legal Nomads is a good general resource, especially for considering what to pack and being a solo female traveler:

What follows is a super detailed list of what I’m bringing, and that’s mostly for me in case I lose something. I’ll be unpacking and repacking countless times this year, so I wanted to have a good list of what I was taking beforehand. I’ve never done this for a trip before – not even when I studied abroad – but I hope it proves useful. And, if you’re interested, I hope this list helps you think of what you might need for your adventure!



  • Underwear: 8 pairs of ExOfficio (quick-dry travel underwear); 2 pairs regular
  • Sports bras and regular bras
  • 8 pairs of pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 16 shirts
  • 2 skirts
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 scarves
  • Socks
  • Tights and warm leggings
  • Pajamas
  • 2 warm sweaters
  • Coats
    • REI Windbreaker/raincoat
    • North Face black fleece coat

Shoes (again, thanks to Nell @

Medicine & Toiletries

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, facewash, floss, comb, deodorant, razor
  • As recommended by travel consultations: Advil, Pepto Bismol, Immodium, and bug spray
  • Malaria pills


  • International charge adapters and voltage converter
  • NYC souvenirs to give hosts (keychains)
  • Cocoon sleeping bag liner
  • Quick dry towel
  • Washcloth
  • Camera: Canon PowerShot G9 X
  • Kindle
  • Blu mobile phone (in each country, I’ll swap in a new SIM card to get a local number there; I’m also bringing my iPhone to keep a US number just in case, though I will mostly use it as a WiFi device)
  • Watson passport holder with passport (of course!) and the “Getting it Right Guide”
  • Credit cards, Watson ID, Seven Corners travel insurance ID
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Notebook, paper, journal, etc.
  • Pencil/pen case
  • Sunglasses
  • Mini leather jewelry box (gift from my aunt Kate) with a couple pairs of earrings, watch, etc.

Now to see if it will all fit!